Broadening Conceptions of Mobile and Its Social Dynamics

Wonderful to see a chapter by me, Frank Hangler, and Ginette Law, entitled ‘Broadening Conceptions of Mobile and Its Social Dynamics’ in Chan, J. M., and Lee, F. L. F. (2017), Advancing Comparative Media and Communication Research (London: Routledge), pp. 142-170. It arrived at my office today.

The volume evolved out of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2015. But the paper’s origins date back to a project that I did during my last months at Oxford in 2014, and early in my tenure at MSU, as the Principal Investigator with Ginette and Frank, of a project called ‘The Social Shaping of Mobile Internet Developments and their Implications for Evolving Lifestyles’, supported by a contract from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd to Oxford University Consulting. This led first to a working paper done jointly with colleagues from Oxford University and Huawei: Dutton, William H. and Law, Ginette and Groselj, Darja and Hangler, Frank and Vidan, Gili and Cheng, Lin and Lu, Xiaobin and Zhi, Hui and Zhao, Qiyong and Wang, Bin, Mobile Communication Today and Tomorrow (December 4, 2014). A Quello Policy Research Paper, Quello Center, Michigan State University.. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2534236 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2534236

The project moved me into a far better understanding and appreciation of the significance of mobile, but also its varied and evolving definitions. Before this paper, I was skeptical of academic work centered on mobile as I considered it one area of Internet studies. However, by the end of the project, I became convinced that mobile communication is a useful and complex area for research, policy and practice, complementary to Internet studies. In the working paper, we forecast the disappearance of the mobile phone device, which seemed far-fetched when we suggested this to Huawei, but is now becoming a popular conception. So look forward to a future in which that awkward scene of people walking along looking at their mobile will come to an end, in a good way.

This paper illustrates the often circuitous route of academic work from conception to publication, which is increasingly international and collaborative. So thanks to the editors, my co-authors, Oxford Consulting, and Huawei for your support and patience. Academic time is another world. But it was all worth doing and the wait.

th-1
     Frank Hangler, Co-Author

 

th
Ginette Law, Co-Author

Why is the panic around echo chambers, filter bubbles, and fake news?

A report we just completed for the Quello Center on ‘Search and Politics‘ concluded that most people are not fooled by fake news, or trapped by filter bubbles or echo chambers. For example, those interested in politics and with some ability in using the Internet and search, generally consult multiple sources for political information, and use search very often to check information they suspect to be wrong. It is a detailed report, so I hope you can read it to draw your own conclusions. But the responses I’ve received from readers are very appreciate of the report, yet then go on to suggest people remain in somewhat of a panic. Our findings have not assuaged their fears. 

Why?

First, these threats tied to the Internet and social media appeal to common fears about technology being out of control. Langdon Winner’s book comes to mind. This is an enduring theme of technology studies, and you can see it being played out in this area. And it is coupled with underestimating the role users actually play online. You really can’t fool most of Internet users most of the time, but most people worry that way too many are fooled.

This suggests that there might also be a role played by a third person effect, with many people believing that they themselves are not fooled by these threats, but that others are. I’m not fooled by fake news, for example, but others are. This may lead people to over-estimate the impact of these problems.

And, finally, there is a tendency for communication and technology scholars to believe that political conflicts can be solved simply by improving information and communication. I remember a quote from Ambassador Walter Annenberg at the Annenberg School, where I taught, to the effect that all problems can be solved by communication. However, many political conflicts result from real differences of opinions and interests, which will not be resolved by better communication. In fact, communication can sometimes clarify the deep differences and divisions that are at the heart of conflicts. So perhaps many of those focused on filter bubbles, echo chambers and fake news are from the communication and the technical communities rather than political science, for example. If only technologies of communication could be improved, we would all agree on …  That is the myth.

More information about our Quello Center report is available in a short post by Michigan State University, and a short essay for The Conversation.

Just Pick Up the Phone

Can You Pick Up the Phone?

I’ve written about the lost art of writing with a pen. Now I feel like there is a need to explain in plain English that when you are having difficulties communicating via email or other electronic messaging systems that you can use the telephone, what you may know as your mobile.

Seriously, people never use their landline phones. And people increasingly do not use their mobile phone as a phone. Years ago, I had a speaker from Seattle, Washington, giving a talk in Oxford, and she told everyone to leave their phones on. Her argument was that no one would actually call during her talk, because people are using their phones for texting and for accessing the Internet and social media – not for talking to other people. And no one called.

This is a telephone
This is a telephone

This trend raises its head in a number of ways. For example, I keep receiving emails from colleagues, particularly administrators, who raise issues I want to discuss with them. Well, as you might guess, they do not list their phone numbers on their email, not to mention their office location. They cannot imagine that someone would want to call them, or visit their office to speak face-to-face, or they do not want to encourage such behavior. I managed to get the phone number of an administrator that practices this art of hiding from the phone and found that he not only fails to answer his phone, but also has no message on his answering service – so I do not even know if I have called the right person or phone.

Email is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I started emailing in 1974, and then we had to call a person to tell them we just sent them an email. I guess now we have to email someone to say we plan to call them. But when email fails, such as in trying to choose a restaurant or organize a meeting, think about actually talking to your colleague. It is easier and will save multiple emails.

So here is my advice, whether or not it has been solicited:

First, put your phone details on your email and blog or Web site. Be accessible.

Second, leave a message for those who call you when you are unavailable.

Third, when communication is not working, just pick up the phone.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that no media is always superior. You need to choose the right medium for the occasion. That will need to be the topic for another blog.

Joining the Board of ‘Global Media and Communication’

I am delighted to be joining the International Editorial Advisory Board of Global Media and Communication, an international, peer-reviewed journal that provides a platform for research and debate on the continuously changing global media and communication environment. Its scope includes global aspects of communication and media studies, anthropology, sociology, telecommunications, public policy, migration and diasporic studies and has a particular remit to encourage a truly global authorship and breadth of articles. The journal has been published by Sage in print and online since 2005 and has a global readership. It currently publishes three issues per year (in April, August and December). As a board member, you would be involved in assisting with occasional reviewing of articles. There are also opportunities to meet and discuss the work of the journal, e.g. at international conferences.  imgres

Personally, it fits well with my work on global aspects of the Internet, such as my work on the New Internet World, and is timely in relation to a new graduate course I am developing on Global Media and Information.

Please consider submitting to this journal if you have forthcoming research in this area.

Campaign and Political Financing Buys Access, Not Votes

Campaign and Political Financing Buys Access, Not Votes

The Democratic Party debates have raised questions on whether Hillary Clinton’s positions on policy issues changed as a consequence of speaking fees and donations to her campaigns. Politicians and media pundits alike remind us that they do not read social science research. The key focus of campaign financing and lobbying is access, not more direct and vulgar efforts to buy votes. So, rather than ask whether Secretary Clinton or other candidates changed their policy positions as a consequence of financial support, we should be looking at whom they communicate with. Who has access to them?

imgres
Shaping Access

Political influence is subtler than vote buying. Perhaps as the old adage says, everyone has their price. So hundreds of thousands of dollars might well influence some people. In the machine days, many voters cared less about whom they voted for, so they would gladly sell their vote for a turkey at Christmas or simply as a favor for a friend. But in most cases, effective lobbying of politicians is done through shaping a communication process, and money and donations tend to buy access to politicians, which in the long term shapes what they know and what they attend to among competing issues on their agenda.

In the 1950s, major interest group theories of political influence hypothesized direct effects of lobbying. Interest groups were perceived as simply giving money to politicians to win their support on key votes. This was sometimes called a billiard ball model of influence. The business or other stakeholder who lobbied most effectively would win the politician’s support. This proved to be naïve. hillary-<3s-trumps

Empirical research on lobbying by my late graduate school mentor, Lester Milbrath, and others, such as Anthony Dexter, tended to demonstrate that politicians seldom changed their positions as a consequence of lobbying. Instead, the implications and role of sophisticated lobbying efforts tended to focus on shaping the communication networks of the politicians. Support could get meetings, phone calls, dinners, and today, probably email exchanges with politicians. These provide opportunities to influence the politician’s understanding of the issues, and to identify the issues of most importance to their supporters.

Lester Milbrath
Lester Milbrath

So don’t look simply at whether a politician’s voting record demonstrates the receipt of financial support. That is the wrong place to look. Instead, look at the network of those who advise and explain the issues to them. To accomplish this, lobbyists need to develop a personal relationship with politicians, and money helps a great deal.

We’ve known this for decades but must continually remind ourselves that pundits ignore research.

References

Raymond A. Bauer, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and Lewis Anthony Dexter (1963), American Business and Public Policy: The Politics of Foreign Trade, 1st Edition. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lester W. Milbrath, (1960), ‘Lobbying as a Communication Process, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 24(1): 32-53.

Lester W. Milbrath (1963), The Washington Lobbyists. Chicago: Rand McNally.

The Study of Power Shifts Tied to Communication and Information Technologies

I finally completed an abstract for my talk at the forthcoming conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). It will be the 66th Annual Conference, this one to be held in Fukuoka, Japan, from 9-13 June 2016. The conference theme is ‘Communicating with Power’, so I chose to speak about my career long interest in the study of power shifts, most recently tied to my concept of  the Fifth Estate.  I was fascinated by the community power literature as a graduate student in political science, and began research on power shifts tied to computing and telecommunications in 1974 as a co-principal on a study of urban information systems. But over time, and across technologies, I’ve continued my focus on what Anthony Downs once argued to be the ‘real payoffs’ of information technology. My title and abstract for the ICA meeting are:

Communication Power Shifts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate

William H. Dutton

“Innovations in communication and information technology have generated controversies over their political implications. From the printing press to the Internet, debate has revolved around Utopian versus dystopian – democratic versus autocratic biases, technologically deterministic versus socially shaped power shifts, and normative forecasts versus patterns that are inductively anchored in empirical research. This talk tracks the most prominent expectations tied to communication and technology, concluding with a focus on the rise of the Internet, and the communicative power it has provided to an emerging Fifth Estate, composed of networked individuals able to use the Internet strategically to hold institutions, and other estates and of the Internet realm more accountable.”

References

My first major publication on power shifts is my book with Jim Danziger, Rob Kling, and Ken Kraemer, entitled Computers and Politics (Columbia University Press, 1982).

Computers and Politics (1982)
Computers and Politics (1982)

Most of my work on the Fifth Estate is listed on http://quello.msu.edu/research/the-fifth-estate/

 

 

 

Information Communication and Society

Our journal, Information Communication and Society (iCS), has had a step-jump in its readership and role in the field over the last several years. The editor, Brian Loader, and I were recalling our first meeting in the late 1990s, when Brian first proposed the journal. We are in the midst of the 16th volume with subscriptions continuing to rise, particularly online, indexed in 18 abstracting and indexing services, including the Social Science Citation Index, up to 10 issues per year, but with a healthy backlog, and with an increasing number of articles winning prizes and other forms of recognition.

The two most outstanding aspects of the journal to me, as one of the editors, are first, its international – global – reach. We have contributors and readers worldwide. For example, we received submissions of articles from authors in 38 countries from 2010-12. This was always an aim of the journal, but it has become a clear reality.

Secondly, the title remains broad and contemporary – it is not being overtaken by the pace of technical change and is as relevant today as when it was first proposed. I sometimes worry about the potential fragmentation of my field of Internet Studies, given the number of increasingly specialized journals, but iCS remains broad enough to encompass all aspects of my field and more, providing one mechanism for integrating work across a wider field of research.

iCS was Brian Loader’s idea, so let me thank him, but also my associate Barry Wellman, our Editorial Board, and many contributors and readers, as well as Routledge Taylor & Francis for helping us realize Brian’s vision. It is great to see this journal develop.

iCS
iCS

 

 

 

See: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rics20/current